Is Sexual Incompatibility In A Marriage A Real Thing?

Let's face it, married life can be tough. It's only natural that problems will arise over the course of your lives together. One of the most common problems couples face is a lack of sex and intimacy in their relationship. According to The New York Times, 15% of couples are in a relationship where they have sex less than 10 times a year with their partner. Couples in a sexless relationship may be experiencing mismatched desire, differing sex drives, or are unsatisfied in the bedroom. Certified sex and dating coach Myisha Battle reports that "a pattern emerges of one partner asking for sex and then feeling rejected which can cause a further divide," per Marriage. Without the proper communication or insight into the inner workings of their relationship, many couples will simply label themselves "sexually incompatible." But is there really such a thing as "sexual incompatibility?" Or is it just another obstacle to overcome in a marriage?

Well, problems in your relationship don't sentence your marriage to death, in fact it's often the opposite. According to Psychology Today, identifying problems in a relationship can lead to a stronger, healthier marriage over time. 

What's really going on when couples say they're incompatible

It's important to use the right language when discussing marital issues so that you can clearly identify the problems and accurately find effective solutions. In Psychology Today, Diane Gleim writes that sexual incompatibility is a myth, and couples' problems in the bedroom are just "differences" that can be resolved with proper communication and guidance. To call you and your partner incompatible because you are experiencing sexual differences can lead to your problems never getting addressed, and that could see your marriage fail

Before you write off that you and your partner are simply unable to satisfy each other, try to identify what is happening beneath the surface. Dr. Kathryn Smerling recommends seeing a mental health professional when you are experiencing sexual differences, because "it's most likely not a physical problem, but an emotional issue that needs to be addressed" (via Insider). There is no shame in seeking professional help, both individually and as a couple. According to Choosing Therapy, 49% of couples surveyed said they had attended some form of counseling with their spouse. Learning to effectively communicate and utilize tools is not only helping married couples in the bedroom, it's saving their relationships. As more couples go to therapy, divorce rates are decreasing. 2019 reported the lowest record of divorces in 50 years, per Institute for Family Studies. 

Marriage is about compromise in and out of the bedroom

Once couples find the right language to use, with or without the help of a mental health professional, it's time to identify problems in the relationship and search for common ground. But differences in the bedroom can be difficult to address and leave both parties feeling vulnerable or unwanted. Denise A. Donnelly, associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, told The New York Times, "Couples who talk over their sex lives (as well as other aspects of their marriages) tend to have healthier marriages, but it's hard to get a couple talking once they've established a pattern of non-communication." 

When couples repeatedly cannot communicate and have difficulty coming to a compromise, the problem becomes perpetual. According to The Gottman Institute, 69% of married couples' problems are what John Gottman calls "perpetual problems." These are problems that arise because the couple is made up of "fundamentally different people" who cannot come to a long-term resolution. Luckily, perpetual problems can still have solutions: Dr. Patrick Keelan says that perpetual problems stem from "each of you necessarily views your perspective as a valid one or perhaps even 'the right one.'" When you both relinquish your need to be right and start to listen to your partner's experience, healing can begin and a compromise can almost always be found.

What happens when you and your spouse just cannot agree?

Now there are some couples that just can't come to a compromise when discussing their sex life. But this is usually surrounding things that one or both partners are fundamentally uncomfortable with or unable to participate in. Gleim says these problems can happen, naming differences such as sexual orientation and extreme fetishes. She states in Psychology Today, "if one partner has an inflexible fetish, meaning they cannot become sexually aroused unless their fetish object is part of the sexual scenario and the other partner does not want to/will not participate," then the couple may not be able to overcome the issue. This will continue to be a perpetual problem that could indicate that the relationship is not healthy. At that point, the couple may need to re-evaluate the relationship.

But most of the time, the perpetual problem is less about a couple's ability to be sexually compatible and more about their willingness to navigate through the issues to find a solution. Spiritual coach Eliyahu Jian told Insider about the importance of communicating your problems and your desires in the bedroom. Be open to experiencing new things for your partner, express your fantasies with kindness and excitement, and come to a mutual understanding about how you two give and receive pleasure. In most cases, sexual differences do not signal the end of your relationship — they signal the beginning of an exciting new journey together.